Moche warrior pot

From Moche, Peru, About AD 100–700

With his alert gaze and fierce facial expression this figure embodies all the qualities of a warrior of the Moche civilisation of northern Peru.

Warfare, warriors, prisoners and sacrifice are recurring themes in Moche art and testify to violent inter-valley rivalries. Moche warfare, while ‘real’ in the sense that fighting took place, appears also to have had a ritual purpose; to capture prisoners for sacrifice.

This warrior is poised ready for action, or perhaps only to serve as a sentry guarding palace entrances or staircases. He is wearing a white, sleeveless tunic, which is decorated with a dark red swirling pattern that also adorns his cone-shaped helmet, and a short loincloth with dark red dots, decorated belt and wrist-guards.

These highly visual patterns would have communicated community identity and affiliation. He is crouching on one knee with a circular shield on one arm and grips a wooden club, possibly with a heavy stone mace-head, in his right hand. Real examples of such weapons, armour and clothing have been found.

Vessels of kneeling warriors like this one were mass-produced by the Moche civilisation.

Excavations at the burial site of Dos Cabezas in Peru found skeletons of so-called ‘Moche Giants’. The wear on the bones and joints of these individuals is consistent with someone who maintained this specific pose for long periods over many years as a kneeling warrior.

Other skeletal evidence reveals injuries sustained by blows from clubs as part of active war service. The vessels themselves seem to have served as symbolic tomb guardians, as they are found interred in large numbers in high-status burials.

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Object details

Height: 22.5 cm
Width: 13.6 cm
Depth: 13.2 cm



Room 1: Enlightenment


    C. McEwan, Ancient American Art in Detail (London, The British Museum Press, 2009)

    T Richard Blurton, The Enduring Image, Treasures from the British Museum, London, (The British Council, 1997)

    See this object in our Collection database online

    Further reading

    G. Banks, Moche Pottery from Peru (London, The British Museum Press, 1980)

    G. Bawden, The Moche (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999)

    S. Bourget, Sex, Death and Sacrifice in Moche Religion and Visual Culture (Austin, University of Texas Press, 2006)

    S. Bourget, and K.L. Jones (ed.), The Art and Archaeology of the Moche (Austin, University of Texas Press, 2008)

    C.B. Donnan, Moche Tombs at Dos Cabezas (Los Angeles, 2007)

    J. Quilter, ‘The Narrative Approach to Moche Iconography’, Latin American Antiquity, 8 (1997), 113–133

    C. Standish, ‘The Origin of State Societies in South America’, Annual Review of Anthropology, 30 (2001), 41–64